Student Finance in Scotland 2020
Trying to wrap your head around Scottish Student Finance? We've done the hard work for you and put together everything you need to know – minus the jargon.
With 19 universities and higher education providers, including some of the most prestigious in the UK, Scotland is a great choice for students looking for a top-quality degree.
And depending on where you're from, it could be a much cheaper option too. You might have heard that tuition fees are free in Scotland – which is true but only for some students.
To cut through the confusion, we’ve produced this handy guide to how much an undergrad degree will cost you in Scotland, no matter where you're from.
What's on this page?
Student Finance Scotland: In a nutshell
We're going to go into all this in much more detail, but to whet your appetite, here are the basics:
- Unlike the rest of the UK, most Scottish degrees take four years to complete
- The body for student finance in Scotland is the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)
- Most first-time students can get funding to pay for university – you won’t need to pay upfront
- Students from Scotland and the EU can study for free in Scotland (the government picks up the tab for tuition)
- However, students from the rest of the UK will be charged up to £9,250
- There's cash to cover living costs for Scottish students in the form of the Student Loan and bursaries
- If you receive the Student Loan, you only start repaying it once you've left your course and are earning enough (and if your income drops, so will your repayments)
- Any debt you haven’t cleared after 30 years is written off
- Student Finance may not go as far as you think it will. Get a clear idea of the costs, and how you’ll cover them – this page will help!
Is university free in Scotland?
Yes, but only if you're a student from Scotland or the EU. If that's you, you won't pay a bean towards tuition fees at Scottish universities – the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) will cover the £1,820 a year for you.
This also means that if you're a Scottish or EU student but you aren't eligible for the fees waiver for whatever reason, you'll still get a much cheaper deal than you would studying elsewhere in the UK.
For students from the Rest of the UK (RUK) – England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and outside the EU, it’s less of a bargain. Full-time RUK fees cost up to £9,250 a year, while international students can be asked to cough up anything from £13,000 – £50,000!
Don't forget that tuition fees are only one part of the full university package. You'll also need to pay for rent, bills, transport, food as well as extra course costs – things like lab kits, field trips, presentation and work experience.
Don't panic though, stick all your estimated costs into a budget planner to avoid stressful surprises later on: we’ve got your back with our budgeting guide.
How long do you have to live in Scotland to get free tuition fees?
You need to have lived somewhere in the United Kingdom for at least three years before the course starts. Then things start to get a little tricky. SAAS guidelines state:
You must be ordinarily resident in Scotland on the first day of the first academic year of the course.
Despite what you might hope, this doesn't mean you can move to Scotland the day before your course starts and still be eligible for the free fees. It basically just means you need to live in Scotland permanently, year after year, full-time and only leaving for holidays – there's just no set time frame on it.
If you plan on moving there just for your education, this will most likely not qualify you for the free tuition fees.
Four-year degrees in Scotland
A standard honours degree in Scotland lasts four years, as opposed to three years in the rest of the UK. And many Scottish students go to university aged 17, unlike students in England and elsewhere who go at 18.
Essentially this doesn't mean anything other than an extra year of fees to take into consideration – you'll still graduate with the exact same qualification as you would elsewhere.
However, if you're studying a subject in humanities or social sciences, and you're attending one of the ancient universities (the University of St Andrews, the University of Edinburgh etc.), you might leave with a Master of Arts, as opposed to the Bachelor of Arts you would get at most English universities.
Even though you're getting a Master's qualification, this isn't the same as a postgraduate MA – it's just another name for an undergraduate degree.
A few institutions offer accelerated courses, which get you in and out in three years (say goodbye to vacations!). Alternatively, a ‘general’ (non-honours) degree takes just three years but isn’t as specialised.
Student Finance in Scotland
As stated earlier, students from the rest of the UK will be charged up to £9,250 a year for studying in Scotland, but this will be covered by a loan that you pay back after graduation – find out more in our Big Fat Guide to Student Finance.
All the information below is specifically for Scottish or EU students applying for Student Finance through SAAS. Students from the rest of the UK must apply for Student Finance through their relevant body.
To qualify for the free tuition fees, the Student Loan and bursaries, you need to meet the SAAS eligibility criteria.
You need to have lived in the UK for at least three years prior to the start of your course, and you need to be 'ordinarily' a resident of Scotland on the first day of your course.
This means you must live in Scotland full-time and out of choice, NOT just for your education.
There are some exceptions to the rule, however, such as EU nationals, those seeking asylum in the UK, UK nationals who have returned from the EU, those with refugee status, dependent children of Swiss nationals or Turkish workers and more – these groups may still be eligible for some funding. Check the SAAS website for more information about this.
Other than that, the main eligibility criteria is that this must be your first degree. If you tick the boxes, then you're good to go.
Most students who live in Scotland full-time won’t have to pay anything for tuition fees because the Scottish government stumps up the cash for you.
Full-time and part-time Scottish students studying at a university in Scotland can get off Scot-free (sorry) thanks to a fees waiver. The money doesn't have to be repaid but check with SAAS for all the details.
EU students studying in Scotland get the same deal as Scottish students – that means access to free tuition fees.
However, only EU students who have been a resident of the UK for at least three years prior to the start of the course will be given financial support for living costs (which are detailed below).
Do Scottish students have to pay for university in England?
The sting in the tail: if you're a Scottish student and you want to study elsewhere in the UK, you’ll forfeit your free tuition fees cash, and can be charged up to £9,250 a year for your course.
That doesn’t mean you have to put down any money straight away, though. If you’re eligible for Student Finance you can get a Tuition Loan, which you don’t have to pay back until you’ve left your course and are earning enough.
Your main funding source for your university living costs will come from the SAAS Student Loan.
It is partly based on your household income, although if you don't want to provide any income details you'll still receive the minimum £4,750 a year.
It's paid in monthly instalments directly to your bank account, and just like any other loan, you will have to pay it back eventually. But we'll get to that later.
Bursaries are free money, meaning you don't have to pay them back. These are dependent on your household income, and you'll receive them in addition to the above Student Loan.
How much you're entitled to depends on whether you're classed as a Young Student (meaning you're under the age of 25 and are not married or financially self-sufficient), or an Independent Student.
Independent Students will receive £875 a year if their household income is under £18,999, whereas Young Students receive a sliding scale of money depending on their household income (see table below).
The cash is paid directly into your bank account (make sure you've got one!) in instalments. Making it last is down to you, so don't blow it on highlighter pens and bargain booze in freshers' week ...
Taking both the Student Loan and bursaries into consideration, here’s how much Young Students can receive depending on their household income:
Student Loan and Bursary for Scottish students 2019/20
|£0 to £20,999||£5,750||£2,000||£7,750|
|£21,000 to £23,999||£5,750||£1,125||£6,875|
|£24,000 to £33,999||£5,750||£500||£6,250|
Part-time students aren't eligible for funding to cover living costs (but check out the extra funding sources below).
Other funding sources for Scottish students
UK students have access to extra support for specific circumstances. In Scotland that includes:
- Lone Parents' Grant for help with childcare costs (usually on a first-come, first-served basis!)
- Adult Dependants' Grant if you're financially responsible for another adult you live with
- Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) for specialist equipment or a non-medical helper, plus travel expenses if you can't use public transport
- Travel expenses for health profession courses
- Vacation grant for care leavers
- Funding for Nursing and Midwifery courses in Scotland. This includes a non-repayable bursary of up to £8,100, £60 in initial expenses, plus maintenance support for special circumstances.
Start with your country’s Student Finance portal to find out what exactly's on offer where you are (and how to get your mitts on it) – but remember there's plenty in the pot if you know where to look:
- Uni bursaries and scholarships, plus hardship funds for students who might struggle to afford uni (or to get by once they're there)
- Business sponsorships, government incentives and charity funds
- Course-specific support, including teacher training and social work.
It’s also worth talking to your university – they'll have dedicated advisers who can point you in the direction of travel grants, discounts, scholarships, or moral support.
When to apply for Student Finance through SAAS
Our best advice here is to apply for Student Finance as early as possible.
You don't need to wait until you receive your exam results to apply for Student Finance. Simply apply using the details of your first choice university and course.
If things turn out differently after results day, you can easily contact SAAS to change things over to a different university.
It's recommended that you apply for your Student Finance by the end of June before starting uni – this way, SAAS can guarantee you will receive your funding before term starts. Any time after this and you could get your Student Loan late, leaving you short during freshers' week.
However, for the academic year 2019/20, the actual deadline isn't until the 31st March 2020 – if you don't apply by this point you'll receive a bill for your tuition fees that you'll have to pay yourself.
Repaying your Scottish Student Loan
First up, if you're a student from the UK (but outside of Scotland or Northern Ireland), your Student Loan repayments will be very different to what's outlined below – get all the facts here.
If you're a Scottish student, your tuition fees will likely be covered by SAAS, so the only loan you need to worry about repaying is the Student Loan used to cover the bulk of your living costs.
Just like with all Student Loans, you don't need to worry about repaying any money until you've finished your course.
But you should know that the loan starts brewing interest from day one up until you clear the final payment (or the debt is wiped), so you’ll end up owing more than you actually borrowed.
Since the Student Loan in Scotland is part of the Plan 1 system, the interest rate is currently set at 1.75% per year: pretty low, all things considered – and much lower than commercial loans as the interest is subsidised by the government.
You don't start repaying your loan until the April after your graduation and when you're earning more than £18,935 a year (£1,577/month) in taxable income. However, the Scottish government has committed to raising the repayment threshold to £25,000 by April 2021.
Once you hit the threshold, repayments are automatically docked from your wages before you get paid (unless you're self-employed, in which case it's calculated when you complete your tax return each year). Either way, you pay 9% on anything you earn above the threshold (not your whole salary!).
Crucially, if your income falls below the threshold at any time, repayments stop until you're back over the line.
Here are some examples of what your monthly repayments could look like:
|Yearly salary||Plan 1 monthly repayments (6th April 2019 – 5th April 2020)|
You don't have to stick to these repayments if you don't want to, this is just the minimum amount you have to repay. You can pay more, or pay it off in full at any time – but whether it's worth it is questionable!
Since the debt will be wiped after 30 years (it was 35 years until the law changed in December 2018), it might not be worth paying it off before then, especially if you don't think you'll earn enough to pay the full sum on the minimum repayments.